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Difficult ground: poetic renunciation in Marianne Moore's "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks".

Even the most intrepid reader of Marianne Moore might be forgiven for declining to engage her poem "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks ."The last poem Moore published in the 1930s, it did not fare well in her own editing of her work. She published it first in Poetry in November 1936 and then revised it for What Are Years? in 1941. Thereafter she never published it again, so it is missing from both her Collected Poems (1951) and her Complete Poems (1967) and has been mostly invisible to Moore scholarship, to say nothing of a general readership. (1) As her extensive draft material and correspondence demonstrate, Moore put a great deal of work into the poem and was never satisfied with it. Criticism has agreed: cited as an example of "the tendency of Moore's verse to puzzle her readers" (Hadas 72), being "perhaps too cluttered and digressive in its associations to be finally successful" (Costello 105), and exemplifying the tripartite metonymies that (in another context) Moore's mother deemed "bizarre," the poem is, even for Moore, difficult. (2) It is also beautiful, however, in its spiky and strangely jointed way, and the intensity of its tangle of aesthetic pleasures and frustrations is more than incidentally interesting in the history of Moore's poetics: it is a sign of the poem's status as the boundary marking the end of one phase of Moore's writing life and the beginning of another.

As we shall argue, some of the poem's difficulties resolve nicely when the reader knows about the objects and exchanges to which they refer. That resolution, however, introduces its own kind of difficulty; "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks" may only make sense to one who knows about all the experiences, including the exchanges of material objects, that went into making it, and the poem knows this and is troubled by it. By the end of the 1930s Moore still believed in a level of poetic meaning, traditionally called the visionary, that transcends the material particularity of texts; however, she had also come to see the assertion of a poets visionary power as directly inimical to the web of material, social, and ethical relations that that power exists, ideally, to illuminate. Read in light of this tension, we argue, the published poems of the 1930s that were eventually abandoned, especially "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks," become signs of a decisive act of renunciation in Moore's career. The complexity and subtlety of Moore's work up through the 1930s has often been contrasted favorably with the relative straightforwardness and didacticism of the work that followed, particularly in those poems that she revised for her 1951 (Collected Poems. (3) Various persuasive explanations, including Moore's despair at the rise of fascism and her own mother's decade of ill health and 1947 death, have been offered to account for the change. However, the reading of "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks" we offer here proposes that that act of renunciation is best understood not solely in psychological, moral, or biographical terms; it suggests instead that there was a reasoned philosophical motivation for the transformation in and of her work. Our hypothesis is that at the end of the 1930s Moore decided that the conversion of experience into thought (as Emerson has it) is achieved at too great a cost to the fabric of social relations and material circumstance in which the poet lives. Simultaneously, she decided that the transformation of genius into practical power (as Emerson also has it) would no longer be her poetry's purpose.

Emerson calls the intellect's conversion of experience into thought "a strange process," comparing it to "a mulberry leaf [being] converted into satin" (60). In the celebrated conclusion to "Experience," "the transformation of genius into practical power" is called "the true romance which the world exists to realize" (492). (4) Moore's guiding hope in "Walking-Sticks" is that the poem can participate in both transformations at once, aligning tonus of artisanal production (including papermaking, glass working, and the molding of wax into seals) with a visionary world of "true romance" in which the beautiful is a reliable sign of the good. To this end the poem represents a number of material and contingent objects with the intent to transform them, to make from them a sharable significance. In particular, Moore seeks to integrate the intimate and private experience of love--the ground of one's contingent identity as brother, friend, mother--with the love she envisions as the ground of poetic authority, what Emerson calls the "love ... in excess" that makes one "the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty" and makes "[t]he name of the nearest friend sound ... foreign and accidental" (10). However, the poem's difficulty suggests that it is an unsuccessful engine of transformation: because objects enter into the poem without shedding their unreasoning, particular materiality, they become only inconsistently and erratically meaningful in the poetic writing that she calls in the 1936 version "an invisible/fabric of inconsistency/motheaten by self-subtractives" (lines 17-19). (5) This densely allusive line suggests the tension in Moore's work of the period. On the one hand, there is her wish that a poem might transform the inconsistencies of the poet's attention and circumstance into a product of material beauty and spiritual authenticity (such as Emerson's satin). On the other, there is her strengthening commitment to the contingent, socially enmeshed self that she sees as bound to damage the idealized, silken "true romance" of visionary poetic strength, leaving it "motheaten." in 1941 she revised the poem and substituted the Keatsian phrase "forms of negativeness" for "selt-subtractives"; this revision signals, as we shall argue, her reluctant acceptance of the costs of poetic work, and anticipates her decision to renounce a particular kind of artistry rather than pay them.

An exchange of gifts

The poem's composition was inspired by five gifts that circulated among a group of Moore's friends: a walking stick given by Moore's brother Warner to Sibley Watson, publisher of the then-defunct Dial; a wax seal imprinted on an envelope by "Watson's wife and Moore's close friend Hildegarde; hand-made rag correspondence paper given to Moore by the book designer and writer Monroe Wheeler; the publication of Moore's limited-edition book The Pangolin and Oilier Verse, in early 1936, with Bryher's Brendin Publishing Co.; and a gift of money from Bryher to Moore.

The last of these gifts was announced in a 9 January 1936 letter from Bryher informing Moore that she would be receiving a monthly payment from the estate of an elderly relative of Perdita Schaffncr's. After describing complex (and possibly apocryphal) British tax regulations that made it impossible for anyone but Moore to claim the money, Bryher concludes:
  Any correspondence about this money must be addressed to Messrs
  Courts ... and not to me, nor must you attempt in any way to return
  any of same to me, or I should be liable to heavy penalties over
  here. You see, I know from experience what you are like. Had the
  death occurred in England, you would not have benefitted, as it is,
  you do. And I can't help this, nor do anything else about it. It is
  down in black and white on a piece of parchment duly reposing in
  Courts bank. (6)


Moore evidently doubted Bryher's description of the case, and showed the letter to her brother Warner. On 23 January he wrote to Moore, advising her to "accept [Bryher's] statements as true and leave her bankers squawk as they see fit." (7) Moore did so, and a receipt from Courts Bank became the source of the watermark image in "Walking-Sticks," as Moore tells Bryher in a letter dated 7 November 1936: "I had mentioned in it--somewhat for your eye--Original Old Turkey Mill, the watermark in the Coutts Bank blue stationary" (Letters 370). (8) In an earlier letter, dated 18 January, Moore thanks Bryher for the financial gift in complex terms. This letter (which begins, inaccurately, "I am [unable] to find words") requires generous quotation to represent the tortuous intertwining of ideas with which Moore responded to Bryher's gift. Moore writes:
  The tendency of some people to prey on others creates in one a kind
  of hostility to money, and on my part a perhaps misleading attitude
  of disdain; whereas no one better than I, I think, is in a position
  to feel money an actual phase of the supernatural, as an agent of
  solicitude and unselfishness. As one comes to understand life better,
  one says that one does not wish to have more than is necessary. But a
  frenzied miser could not have been more desperate than I have been,
  at times, in thinking of lost savings which I am now incapable of
  re-earning. No one could be more difficult to assist than I am, under
  the principle of stipulated proof that production would justify the
  confidence and assistance extended. No one could understand better
  than I, the demoralizing effect of a sense of insecurity or need more
  than I do for those I care about, the freedom of being
  self-dependent. So I should like you to know that for the accumulated
  "certain small sums" you refer to--with additions saved from a
  monthly amount from my brother--a protected investment which he has
  found for us, will now be paying $26.25 a quarter and itself be
  growing more valuable.
  [I] realize more than ever, that one's debts of gratitude must needs
  be paid to someone other than the one from whom one receives it; and
  ... that however great the gift, and extreme one's need, might be,
  nothing of the benefit could be so great as the sense of support
  conveyed by the feeling which actuated the giving. (359-60)


In this letter Moore, out of both modesty and "self-dependence," articulates for herself the terms of Bryher's gift so that it cannot be seen as an act of patronage. For one thing, Moore is clear that no equivalent in exchange value will be forthcoming: "No one could be more difficult to assist than I am, under any stipulated proof that production would justify the confidence and assistance extended." At the same time, to distance herself from the recipients of public charity under the New Deal (to whom she refers in the phrase "the tendency of some people to prey on others"), Moore assures Bryher that, by means of the "protected investment" Warner Moore has found, the money will be well spent and obviate occasion for future such gifts. (9) Perhaps most significantly, Moore asserts in the letter that the most generous sense in which Bryher's gift may be taken is one that requires the recipient to discharge the debt incurred by accepting it (for Moore gifts always entailed debts) so as to leave intact what she calls "the freedom of being self-dependent." Moore's elegant solution for managing this balance is to claim that the recipient is not the endpoint of the gift but simply one in a chain of recipients that keeps the gift in circulation: "one's debts of gratitude must needs be paid to someone other than the one from whom one receives."

"Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks," with its tribute to Bryher's gift in the form of the watermark it describes, is also an implicit repayment of the gift in numerous other ways. In accordance with her policy of keeping a gift circulating, Moore did not send the poem to Bryher. However, in the same letter in which she mentions the watermark, Moore says that she plans to publish the poem simultaneously in Poetry, where it had already been accepted by Morton Zabel, and in the English periodical Life and Letters Today, of which Bryher wras the publisher. Moore's understanding of the economy of the gift operates here: the debt of gratitude will not be repaid directly to Bryher, but will circle indirectly back toward her.

This exchange of gifts between Bryher and Moore--the gift of the inheritance and the gift of the watermark poem that is, as Moore says, "somewhat for" Bryher's eyes--is one moment in a wider exchange of gifts that may have left Moore feeling less than "self-dependent" at times. The exchange started with Bryher's and H.D.'s 1921 gift to Moore of a book of her poems (called Poems), winch, to Moore's consternation, they published without her knowledge. (10) Bryher rectified this largely unwelcome present with another, fifteen years later in 1936, when she published The Pangolin and Other Verse, a limited edition of five of Moore's poems, under the imprint of her own Brendin Publishing Co. Bryher apparently characterized this book as a gift to herself, neatly allowing Moore, positioned as giver, to wipe clean the unpleasant debt left by Poems and regain control of her poems. (11) Bryher left all decisions regarding Pangolin in Moore's hands; Moore responded by involving herself in the most minute details of the book's production.

The conception and production of Pangolin in 1935 closely followed Faber's publication of her Selected Poems and her correspondence about it with T. S. Eliot. In the process of seeing both projects to completion, Moore absorbed herself in reading about papermaking and typefaces. (12) However much her research into these issues informed the production of her books, they are also clearly reflected in "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks," where, despite the poem's title, images of paper and papermaking predominate. Moore's focus on fine papermaking in this poem allows her to explore values--such as sincerity and integrity--that are conditions of the "integral expressiveness" that the poem itself is struggling to achieve. The poem associates the integrity it seeks with artisanal objects and is replete with them: in addition to the three of the title, there are a wax seal, handmade paper of various kinds, and a paper mould. Testifying to her repeated assertion that "the power of the visible/is the invisible" (Complete Poems 100), or that a thing should "acknowledge the spiritual forces which have made it" (Becoming 101), the artisanal object that most exemplifies the poem's value of "integral expressiveness" is the "wire-embedded watermark," the hallmark of the papermaker lying ineradicably beneath the layers of writing a letter accumulates in circulation:
The post's jerky

cancellings ink the stamp, relet-
tering stiltedly, as a puppet-
acrobat walks
about with high steps on his net,
an alphabet
of words and animals where the
wire-embedded watermark's more integral
expressiveness had first set
its alabaster effigy. (lines 81-90)


In the context of the poem, however, the watermark would remain invisible if it were not for the glass paperweight, "a greenish Waterford/glass fool's cap," at and through which the poet gazes:
This paperweight, in mass
a stone, surpass-
ing it in tint, enlarges the
fine chain-lines in the waterleaf weighted by
its hardened raindrop surface. (lines 63-71)


The paperweight, both a "stone" and a lens, represents the extremes of mind and matter coming together. Although it makes visible the watermark, the poem's central figure of a realized visionary impulse, the paperweight magnifies and participates in the details of the material world, such as the "chain-lines" of the paper mould into which the pattern of the watermark was woven with wire. Most significantly, the paperweight allows the poet to focus simultaneously on the watermarks and the rag paper in which they are suspended and through which they must be seen; its "hardened raindrop surface" shows the poet
The paper-mould's similarly
once unsolid waspnest-blue, snow-
white, or seashell-gray rags, [which] seen through, show
sheepcotes, turkey-
mills, acorns, and anvils. (lines 72-76)


Thus, in making paper transparent, the paperweight also returns paper to its prior state, as if perceiving the watermark (emblem of the finished product of artistry) were inseparable from perceiving the traces of rags (the most preliminary state of unworked materials) in the paper. An Emersonian eye might see the metamorphosis of rags into paper as a progression to be celebrated as an example of "the intellect mould[ing] her splendid products" (60), like the caterpillar turning the mulberry leaf into satin. However, in noting rags intervening between readers and watermarks, Moore suggests that the paper holds within it, still visible to the attentive eye, a former state of being, evidence of only partial transformation. (13)

Such an incomplete transformation is one example of what Moore calls "inconsistency," the defining quality of the "invisible fabric" that, we noted earlier, is the poem's central metaphor for Moore's desired interweaving of meaning and matter. The fabric's invisibility aligns it with an Emersonian ideal of the poem that meshes language and thought, world and vision. Its "inconsistency," however, reflects Moore's belief that such aimed-for meshing remains uneven and roughly textured at points: neither all material particular nor all spirit, the poem is the difficult crossroads at which opposites meet. The "invisible fabric" first appears at the end of the first two stanzas, which describe a walk in a forest where everything is alive and there are no observable boundaries between the natural and the supernatural:
Walking among sceptre-headed
weeds and daisies swayed by wind, they said,
"Don't scatter your
stick on account of the souls." Led
from sun-spotted
paths, we went "where leafy trees meet
overhead and noise of traffic is unknown"--
the mind exhilarated
by life all round, so stirringly

alive. The root-handled cudgel
with the bark left on, the woodbine smell-
ing of the rain,
the very stones, have life. Little
scars on church-bell
tongues put there by the Devil's claws--
authentic phantoms, ghosts, and witches, transformed
into an invisible
fabric of inconsistency

motheaten by self-subtractives--
now as outright murderers and thieves,
thrive openly. (lines 1-21)


The proximity of the rich world of "life" to the supernatural world of the souls of the dead suggests here the poet's "exhilarat[ing]" ability to move, with her walking stick or cudgel, between the material and the immaterial. At the same time, however, such an open channel also introduces the possibility that the demonic, rather than the daemonic, will cross into the everyday world. Moore points toward this frightening outcome in her description of the "church-bell/tongue" flowers: it the "tongue" of the church bell--located on the near side of "sun-spotted/paths" rather than the far, wooded side of the threshold crossed by the speaker--is associated with spirit as the Word, the Devil's claw marks are not reassuring. Like the fairytale forest of "The Hero," "where there are/weeds of beanstalk height,/[and] snakes' hypodermic teeth" (A-Quiver 57), the forest in "Walking-Sticks" is a dangerous area. Though the speaker's tone suggests a kind of calm elation, the "life" that exhilarates the mind also threatens it: formerly spectral "phantoms, ghosts, and witches" become menacingly manifest. (14) With her mind exhilarated, the poet envisions the dead and the demonic "transformed/into an invisible [motheaten] fabric" associated with thought and language, as if the Word can no longer regulate the distinction between the material and the immaterial. The poem suggests that the world may be made dangerous by a permeable boundary between the material and the immaterial, for, "motheaten by self-subtractives,'" that boundary is, at present, permeable in a wrong (fallen, human) way.

For Moore, the "motheaten" fabric of language does not achieve immaterial meaning but contains the destructive power of what she calls "self-subtractives." That her intention to rhyme "self-subtractives" with "thieves" only uncertainly succeeded suggests the trace of a crux in the poem. (15) It marks Moore's attention both to a charismatic, visionary, Emersonian self that has subtracted itself from all preexisting social relations and to the destructiveness (against relations of all kinds) she imagines such a self entails. Where Emerson becomes a serene eyeball on the bare common, Moore imagines the sublime erasure of self as a "subtractive," finding its closest material analogues in "outright murderers and thieves." In Moore's iconography moths are distinct from butterflies: whereas butterflies figure the continuity of experience and thought in the achievement of transcendence, nocturnal moths eat away at the product of metamorphosis, the fabric made by the silk from the butterfly's cocoon that appears in other Moore poems. The artisan eyeing the shades and tones of the rags seen through the paperweight may aspire to transmute the colors and texture of experience into the vision associated with the watermark. However, in "Walking Sticks" artistic production functions less as a butterfly than as a moth eating away at the "invisible fabric" of thought and idea to which experience points, but which the artisanal object incompletely embodies. In this way Moore identifies a limit to what experience--the world of appearance and sensation at its most rudimentary and promising, like the rags--can be made to become.

Solidity and self-defensiveness

Moore's poem's hero is the maker of the paperweight, who "must have been an able workman,/studious and self-possessed,/a liker of solidity" (lines 52-54), and also appears as a "bold, outspoken gentleman, cheer-/ful, plodding, to-/the-point, used to the atmosphere/of work" (lines 38-41). This gentleman-workman exemplifies sincerity, a virtue illustrated by a wax seal:
stark sincere unflattery,

sine cera, is both farthest
from self-defensiveness and nearest;
as when a seal
without haste, slowly is impressed
and forms a nest
on which the raised device reversed,
shows round. (lines 45-52) (16)


The analogy of the wax seal identifies reciprocity of form and matter as the origin of the man's character. Capable of being "impressed by the face of the world" (18), the gentleman is receptive to what is given him; as "an able workman" he can make the impression permanent, as with a seal, so that it can be carried over to others. There is, however, something ungenerous--something "self-defensive," as Moore says--in his motto. Indeed, the artisan or "able workman" may not exemplify the integral self; though "bold [and] outspoken," he is also "plodding" and does not appear to have the visionary capacity for what Moore, in the final stanza, calls "true love. "While the poem provisionally casts its lot with the "plodding" of the "able workman," it is also nonetheless drawn toward a more visionary notion of the self. Its well-wrought objects embody the artisanal virtue of sincerity, but they do not necessarily manifest the integrity of the self as Moore ultimately conceives it. If what is impressed upon the workman is "beauty/that is power devoid of fear" (lines 36-37), his taste comes short of a beauty that, as Emerson says in Nature, exhilarates "to the brink of fear" (10).

Moore alludes to such Emersonian exhilaration in the stanza discussed earlier, where the speaker walks in the woods, her "mind exhilarated/by life all round, so stirringly/alive. "The self-possession and self-defensiveness of the workman contrast strikingly with Emerson's self-less exhilaration:
  all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am
  nothing; I see all ... I am part or particle of God. The name of the
  nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to
  be acquaintances,--master or servant, is then a trifle and a
  disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. (10)


Moore's transparent eyeball is the paperweight of her poem's title, which, again, she imagines is absorbed in its vision of the translucent watermark of the paper on which it sits. But this materialization of the eyeball as a paperweight qualities the Emersonian turn to the "uncontained and immortal beauty" that renders him "lover" rather than friend or brother, master or servant. "Mean egotism," or what Moore calls " self-defensiveness," is, for Emerson, inseparable from our social and familial relations with others. Moore, however, wants to emphasize the material connectedness of persons to one another and to things; for her, the "common" cannot be "bare" but is necessarily replete with relation.

Rather than the watermark or the paperweight, then, it is the wax seal that epitomizes Moore's sense of the relation of mind and materiality. Hers is a nuanced response to a tradition of representing mind and matter with wax, seal, and print. In Emerson's "The American Scholar," seal and print figure a reciprocity between nature (the "not-me") and soul so complete that they are revealed as one:
  Thus ... the school-boy under the bending dome of day ... shall see
  that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for
  part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his
  own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes
  to him the measure of his attainments. (56)


Considering, as well as seal and print, the wax before it becomes the print, Moore complicates Emerson's metaphor, reorienting it to focus on the active process by which seal and wax meet in order to produce a print. This emphasis on dynamic process over finished artifact points to her allegiance with Dewey, to whose own image of wax and seal she is also replying. (17) In Democracy and Education. Dewey suggests that while wax has often been used as a figure for the way a mind is impressible by experience, it has been used so improperly:
  If we think of a habit simply as a change wrought in the organism,
  ignoring the fact that this change consists in the ability to effect
  subsequent changes in the environment, we shall be led to think of
  "adjustment" as a conformity to environment as wax conforms to the
  seal which impresses it. (46)


Taking up Dewey's metaphor and his skepticism, Moore emphasizes the interaction between wax and seal, an active meeting of evenly matched forces:
An epigraph before it leaves
the wax, receives
to give, and giving must itself
receive, "difficulty is ordained to check
poltroons," and courage achieves
despaired-of ends. (lines 22-27)


The reciprocity between wax and seal in this passage might seem to suggest the happy congruence Emerson saw between print and seal, mind and nature. Moore's stanza, however, formally questions this suggestion: the motto about epigraphs and the motto about difficulty purport to stand in apposition to one another, but their relationship is obscure, and neither seems aptly described by the material image of a wax and seal. This disjunction of mind (the paraphrasable meaning of the poem) and matter (the images that embody it) is only one of several instances where the poem's apparent abstract meaning is at best oddly aligned with the figures that illustrate or exemplify it. Mind and matter, while equally real and alive, are off balance, like the "plodding" workman, one who must "trudg[e]/on two legs that move contradictorily" (lines 33-34). In fact, without their embodiment in wax--the historically preeminent figure of matter at its most changeable and passive--mind and meaning according to the poem are "reversed," or "inverse": the words of the motto, written in reverse in the die, only become legible when imprinted. It would be a struggle to read them in the dark interior of the hollow die, which as we will see is Moore's image of the self.

Moore's 1941 revision of her poem provides a key to her thinking about the self. Drafts simultaneous with the 1936 composition correlate the hollow die with the phrase "the hollowed self," an echo that suggests she was seeking either to parallel or contrast the self with the figure of the "self-subtractives" that in the 1936 poem eat away at the "invisible fabric" of thought and language. (18) The alignment of the hollow die with the "self-subtractives" is imperceptible in the 1936 poem, but Moore returns to the problem in the 1941 revision, renaming "self-subtractives" as "forms of negativeness," an allusion to Keats's notion of negative capability. Keats famously celebrated the capacity of the poet to accept impression without hastening to reciprocal action, to remain "capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason" (193). Keats thus values the poet's patience--and likewise, in the 1941 version of "Walking-Sticks," one of the virtues figured by the die and wax is the patience necessary to reception:
Patience, with its superlatives,
firmness and loyalty and faith, gives
intensive fruit.
As a device before it leaves
the wax, receives
to give, and giving must itself
receive, "difficulty is ordained to check
poltroons," and courage achieves
despaired-of ends inversely,--
mute with power and strong with fear.
(What Are Years 11-12)


Where Keats describes a suspension of aesthetic response, Moore emphasizes the reciprocal act of "giving" immediately upon receiving. Though these lines appear to figure the "hollowed self" of negative capability, the self emptied for the moment of reception, the die of a wax seal makes an impression more than it receives one. Thus, while seeming to disavow it, Moore's metaphor insists on the self's active response to what it embraces. (19) For her, receiving and giving occur almost simultaneously, with the crucial period of patience reduced to the word "before." Similarly, in its impatient and even glib assertion of its proverbial truth, the motto "courage achieves/despaired-of ends," elides any trace of the experienced time of despair.

Behind Moore's elision stand the final paragraphs of Emerson's "Experience," which counsel patience and courage in the face of despair: "Patience and patience, we shall win at the last" (492). For Emerson here, the despaired-of end is "the transformation of genius into practical power" (492), which he exemplifies in his contemporaries' enthusiasm for social and political reform in light of moral vision. Denigrating such "manipular attempts to realize the world of thought," including, he implies, poems, essays, and other works of art, Emerson purports "mournful[ly]" (490) to renounce the ambition for such transformation. Even as he acknowledges the "discrepance" of the world of thought and the one in which we live, however, he will not renounce "genius," defined here as the capacity to receive, which is to say both to perceive and to be changed by the "visionary face" life takes on in thought. He describes such capacity as an incommensurable gift that cannot be reciprocated by an action such as that figured by the seal of mind imprinting the wax of matter. However real they are, thought and vision cannot shape the social and material world as the revelations of genius would wish:
  Let who will ask, where is the fruit? I find a private fruit
  sufficient. This is a fruit,--that I should not ask for a rash effect
  from meditations, counsels and the hiving of truths. ... All I know
  is reception; I am and I have: but I do not get, and when I have
  fancied I had gotten anything, I found I did not. I worship with
  wonder the great Fortune. My reception has been so large, that I am
  not annoyed by receiving this or that superabundantly. ... The
  benefit overran the merit the first day, and has overrun the merit
  ever since. The merit itself, so-called, I reckon part of the
  receiving. (491)


Moore's echoes of Emerson's language suggest that for her the "intensive fruit" that patience yields will also amount only to a private one. Her tone is different from Emerson's, however, and indicates her choice of the "intensive fruit" of personal, intimate relations rather than the access to visionary truth promised by Emerson's solitude. He concludes with the confidence that a self split between society and solitude will eventually reconcile: "I know that the world I converse with in the city and in the farms, is not the world I think. I observe that difference, and shall observe it. One day I shall know the value and law of this discrepance" (491). Particularly as the 1930s ended, Moore did not share this confidence.

True love

Moore is aware, with Keats, that "a great poet" can negate the self for the sake of reception; with Emerson, she is aware that the debt entailed by reception is infinite. We need only press the seal's epigraph a little further to see in it a defense against such a threat to "self-dependence": the claim that the seal "receives/to give, and giving must itself/receive," by conjuring away incommensurability as immediate reciprocity, leaves the imprinting and ideal self, secure with its motto, intact in its negative space. As her response to Bryher's gift makes clear, Moore felt being "self-dependent" was endangered by receiving gifts. According to her letter, to receive is in effect to take--that is, to admit dependency and to "prey on others." The motto thus contains a troubled memory of Dewey's innocuous observation: "If the mother hands the child something needed, the latter must reach the thing in order to get it. Where there is giving there must be taking" (28). To reach is to acknowledge that the gift is needed and that one "must ... receive" (emphasis added). That the self remains indebted to the material and social environment--the world of experience--means that the solitary self of poetic vision cannot redeem things from their materiality, that it relies on matter more than it wishes to realize.

It is fitting, then, that the printed wax seal, the poem's primary figure of reciprocity, is a gift. Both Moore and Mary Warner Moore admired the small wax device with which Hildegarde Watson sealed her letters to them. (20) In "Walking-Sticks" one such letter is
sealed
with wax by a pelican
studying affectionately

a nests three-in-one cartwheel tri-
legged lace. "For those we love, live and die"
the motto says. (lines 97-102)


On 28 June 1936, when Moore was still at work on the poem, Mary Warner Moore wrote to Hildegarde Watson admiring the skill with which the seal was imprinted; "Your fine print of the pelican seal ought to be studied with a microscope. How could you make it so perfect? And too it is a beautiful thing. I regard it as a special gift." (21) It is a gift that would be reciprocated by Moore: this pelican seal became central to "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks," which seems to have been written "somewhat for [Hildegardes] eye" too. Upon reading the poem after its publication in Poetry, Watson wrote to Moore: (22) "Your poem is very beautiful .. The pelican seal is so fine a picture." Just as Mary Warner Moore expressed her gratitude to Watson for the gift of the seal, so Watson expresses her gratitude for the "picture" of the pelican seal in the poem that she recognized as an acknowledgment of her gift. She continues: "I hope that my strong love for you is of some little comfort in return for the gratitude you are so responsible for in me." In a letter of 10 July 1937 the complexity of Watson's economy of giving rivals Moore's:
  It's perplexing whether to save something in order to give or to give
  in order to save. Whether, what which [sic] to move for the best
  move, or not to move at all but be moved, that this precious thing
  one tries to preserve may become increased not through solicitude
  of it and that there is waste in such preservation. I am grateful for
  your goodness to me. (23)


This letter demonstrates the extent to which both Moore and Watson recognized the care with which gratitude must be expressed in order to achieve sincerity: in their turning in on themselves, what could easily seem formulaic expressions of politeness in Watson's letter reflect efforts at a sincerity that is difficult to achieve. Watson concludes her letter: "I've not been able to say the things I have in my heart to you. Isn't it because I try too hard?"

The mirroring of ideas and phrasing in the correspondence among Mary Warner Moore, Marianne Moore, and Hildegarde Watson, indicates how deeply Moore's poem is woven into a private world. Its incorporation of privately circulating gifts suggests her wish that the language of poetry might blur the distinction between private intimacy and allusion on the one hand and public and shareable meaning on the other. Itself a gift circulated among intimate friends even as it speaks publicly and with poetic authority, the poem exemplifies the pursuit of "integral expressiveness." The intensity of this ambition, and the complexity of Moore's decision to renounce a pursuit she ultimately saw as too costly, inhabit its final two stanzas:
Firm-feathered jumper springing
from difficult ground, the sky trembling
with power, the rain
falling upon the bird singing,
modest printing,
on honest paper properly
trimmed, are gifts addressed to memory, and a
gift is permanent, shining
like the juniper's trinity

of spines. An unburdensomely
worthy officer of charity,
the evergreen
with awlshaped leaves in whorls of three--
successively
firm. "On the first day of Christmas
my true love he sent unto me, part of a bough of a
bough of a juniper-tree,"
javelin-ed consecutively. (lines 109-26)


Of special note is how the final lines imagine the reconciliation of particular, contingent human love with divine universal love--in the figure of the beloved from the genre of romance--the outcome of which is marriage. (24) This vision of the beloved bearing a wedding gift embodies the "true romance" Emerson points to at the end of "Experience," where the poet's thought is also realized "practical power." For Moore such power is a form of love: she sees the juniper tree as "an unburdensomely/worthy officer of charity" (lines 118-19), calling on the use of "charity" and "love" as alternate translations of the same biblical term. Love-charity authorizes the office of poet, of which the "part of a/bough ... javelin-ed consecutively" is a talisman. Wishing for beauty to be more than a "private fruit," for it "to realize the world of thought" in the charitable deed, Moore evokes the authorizing power of Christ more than she ever has before. He arrives, the bridegroom born on Christmas Day, as "my true love," his presence accounting for the "shining" of the jumpers "trinity//of spines" and retroactively illuminating one more facet of Hildegarde Watson's wax pelican seal. That seal bears the heraldic device known us "the pelican in its piety," representing the mother pelican who revives her young from the dead with her own blood. (25) Like the juniper, the pelican is an officer of charity; and like the pelican, the jumper, with its "javelin[s|" or thorns, was taken to be an image of Christ's self-sacrifice. (26) Yet the poem declines the comic outcome of the Christian vision, where violence is redeemed and redemptive, layering it with the darker world of "The Juniper Tree," the Grimm fairytale about a murdered mother and son that ends with a vision of rebirth:
  the jumper-tree began to stir itself, and the branches parted
  asunder, and moved together again, just as if some one was rejoicing
  and clapping his hands. At the same time a mist seemed to arise from
  the tree, and in the centre of this mist it burned like a fire, and a
  beautiful bird flew out of the fire singing magnificently, and he
  flew high up in the air, and when he was gone, the juniper-tree was
  just as it had been before, and the handkerchief with the bones was
  no longer there. (181)


Moore's poem concludes by alluding to this story, as another bird emerges from the (also feathered) maternal juniper tree:
Firm-feathered juniper springing
from difficult ground, the sky trembling
with power, the rain
falling upon the bird singing


The fairy-tale connection recalls the forest walk that opened the poem, where what might have been genetically and tonally a garden poem celebrating the abundance of life is shadowed by a darker allegorical forest where "murderers and thieves thrive openly" and "the Devil's claws" have left "Little/scars on church-bell/tongues." Moore's fairy-tale world suggests an autonomous realm where spirit and matter intermix as demonic powers; as this world is recalled at the end of the poem, we are left uncertain about what kind of "power" it is that could make the sky tremble.

While concluding with a Christmas carol suggests the consolation of childhood ritual, the fairy-tale allusion conjures the world of childhood fear, where "murderers and thieves" are never far away. The happy ending of fairy tales is a form of childhood wish fulfillment, manifesting the child's unmediated desires for both violence and order; in contrast to the redemptive vision associated with Christ, fairy tales do not transcend the world from which they issue. In "The Juniper Tree" maternal violence is unleashed with the rebirth of the son as the phoenix, rising from the tree's mist-shrouded fire, and the consequent rejoicing matches in intensity the terror of the justice the reborn creature will mete out. The phoenix is thus a perfect foil for the figure of the self-sacrificing Christ, reborn in order to spare others their just punishment through his own suffering. Concluding with these antitheses held in tension, "Walking-Sticks" reflects the poetic impasse Moore had reached at the end of the 1930s: her long-standing impulse to write from "a real christ-like desire to aid, tolerate, endure" (Letters 39) was in unavoidable conflict with her strong identification with the immolating power of the visionary artist. (27)

Christianity and fairy tales reconcile opposing forces in the same way: their stories resolve into threes rather than pairs. In the one, Father and Son cohere with the Holy Ghost; in the other, son and daughter come together to restore the true mother. "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks" is the apotheosis of Moore's triadic thinking, and has as difficult a goal as either of these stories: to find a third term that will stabilize antithetical forces. The poem is only ambiguously successful in this attempt, and the walking stick of the title is the emblem of this difficulty as well as the sign of its possible resolution. The fourth stanza figures that resolution in the triskelion:
Oppositely

jointed against indecision,
the three legs of the triskelion
meeting in the
middle between triangles, run
in unison
without assistance. (lines 27-33)


Where humans merely "trudg[e]/on two legs that move contradictorily," the triskelion in its graceful and decisive movement anticipates the heartening power of the Christian trinity with which the poem concludes. Despite its conclusion, however, the poem cannot overcome the lesser trinities associated with the clumsiness and danger of living in the world. Those worldly trinities reassert themselves when the speaker, "Part pelican" (line 103), gazes doubtfully upon "the high-/way's wide giant trivia where/three roads meet in artificial openness" (lines 104-06). This "trivia" (Latin for "where three ways meet") is where Oedipus encounters his father (see Sophocles 41), reminding us that the walking stick of the title also alludes to the Sphinx's riddle: "What walks with four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?" Whereas "the three legs of the triskelion ... run in unison," two-legged humans with walking sticks are beset with danger, as Oedipus's story reminds us.

The allusion to Oedipus is one of the many hints that the poem's closest generic identification is not to the fairy tale or the romance but to tragedy. Tragedy is founded on kinship, the "difficult ground" from which the hero's fate springs. If "my true love" is Christ the bridegroom, then he competes with another "power" that draws the poem into a murkier world, presided over by the mother, ambivalently identified with Christ as both pelican and juniper tree. Where Emerson is exhilarated by feeling distant from brother or friend, maternal power is associated with relatedness; Moore's speaker is "Part pelican" (line 103) rather than "part or particle of God." As Oedipus came to recognize, with kinship comes grief, or as the motto on the pelican seal has it: "For those we love, live and die" (line 101). The motto as it actually appears on Hildegarde Watson's seal is "Live and die for those we love." In reversing the phrases, Moore makes it both more intimate and more ambiguous; the expression of heroic courage and responsibility--we must be prepared to live and to die for those we love--becomes equally an expression of grief for their passing: "Those we love live and die." Moore's subsequent comment--"And we do"--affirms both meanings of the ambiguity and adds another: not only do we live and die for those we love, but we too, like those we love, live and die.

The feeling of the tragic draws the poem away from what Moore calls "the atmosphere/of work," as this laborious artifact, the poem, reaches both toward and away from a formally comic conclusion. In imagining such a conclusion, as well as in reading Moore's careful undoing of the conditions for its success, we are guided by a passage from Allen Grossman:
  The expression "true-love" and its figural re-expressions and
  instituted accounts ... is constituted of a difficult union of
  precisely contradictory discourses: the truth discourse (abstract,
  generalizing, masculine, corporeal, regulative, formal, apparently
  unchanging, a Western bird--the ever-constant Turtledove of the
  Shakespearean poem) and the love discourse (concrete, particular,
  feminine, mental, not subject to regulation, without determinate
  form, exotic, and at the same time the pre-eminent force in the
  universe--the Phoenix-flame forever changing into itself). (22)


Having invoked the phoenix as the "bird singing" while the sky "trembl[es] with power," the poem retreats from the conflagration it glimpses. At its end, with "the sky trembling" and "the bird singing," Moore looks at the work in her hand and accepts a limit:
modest printing,
on honest paper properly
trimmed, are gifts addressed to memory, and a
gift is permanent (lines 113-16)


"Modesty" and "honesty" require a renunciation of a purely visionary aesthetic, of the illusion that matter shaped into the beautiful can provide a glimpse of spirit. "Honest paper" is a phrase used for money that is redeemable in silver or gold, and contrasts with the "parchment" that bears Hildegarde "Watson's seal, a parchment that recalls also the "covenant" that in Bryher's words "is down in black and white on a piece of parchment duly reposing in Courts bank." The seal on the covenant figures an attachment over which one has no power; as Emerson acknowledges in the final paragraphs of "Experience," ultimately there is no choice in matters of dependence, and one can only "worship with wonder the great Fortune." The poem's late alliance with honest paper rather than the gift affirms the personal, intimate source of the meaning it tried, with such difficulty, to render "expressive." It remains immersed in the allusions that echo within Moore's intimate circle. Calling it a gift "addressed to memory," Moore finally offers the poem not to a world to come but to the memory of her friends, who will recognize in it an act of reciprocity and gratitude for gifts she has received. In dramatizing its acceptance of the discrepancy between experience and achieved vision, the poem attempts to remain content with what Emerson calls "a private fruit," renouncing the transcendent permanence of the gift--the gift given by "my true love"--with which the poem ends.

This renunciation, however, involves a mournful regret that "true love" cannot be realized in the marriage of the magnificent Phoenix with the loyal Turtledove as it is imagined in. Shakespeare's "The Phoenix and the Turtle. "There "division grow[s] together" (1797) and reason is confounded as "the phoenix and the dove/[become] Co-supremes ... of love." Shakespeare's image of a "self [that is] not the same/single natures double name/Neither two nor one ... called," sets the terms both for Moore's visionary poetic ambition and for its renunciation. The longing in "Walking-Sticks" for a union of phoenix and turtledove and the effort to prevent it are concentrated in the parameters of its final quotation; in choosing the gift of the juniper bough, Moore declines the original carols second gift: "The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me/Two turtledoves." This was not the only time she interdicted the turtledove from her work: exactly one year before the publication of "Walking-Sticks" she published, also in Poetry, "Pigeons," a poem she never reprinted in any collection. In it the earner pigeons are also called doves and turtledoves; Moore did not allow these "not exciting," "shy" (lines 57, 58) birds a place in her canon, as she did not allow the turtledoves to meet the phoenix at the end of "Walking-Sticks."

Her refusal of that marriage was permanent. "Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks" is the last ambitious poem of its kind in Moore's work. After its appearance in 1936 she published no poems until 1940, when the trio of "Four Quartz Crystal Clocks," "What Are Years?" and "A Class-Ribbed Nest" appeared in the Kenyan Review Their clearly articulated support of social values (punctuality, joy, and love, respectively) represent Moore's new poetics: a crucial question about the potential of the created object--walking stick, paperweight, watermark, or poem--is no longer open. After 1940 her poems remain subtle and interesting, but they are predicated on selflessness as the sacrifice of sublimity.

The 1941 version of "Walking-Sticks" participates in this sacrifice, recentering itself around the concept of loyalty:
And all can understand
how centralizing loyalty
shapes matter as a die is hid
while used ... (10)


In Shakespeare's poem, the turtledove's loyalty leads to its marriage in death to the phoenix: "Death is now the phoenix' nest;/And the turtle's loyal breast/To eternity doth rest" (1798). Moore's refusal of this marriage, however, means that that tragedy is not permitted to unfold. Her turtledove's loyalty is more modest, remaining "domestic" as a strange and heroic power--what she calls the "violent" power of "unreason" (Becoming 89)--passes from her work. The mournfulness of "Walking-Sticks" suggests not simply the regret of the turtledove who has been refused the marriage. It also suggests the grief of Shakespeare's figure of Reason, left behind in a world where the union of phoenix and turtle looks like death, and the gap still separates truth and beauty, thought and power, word and world. Reasons wisdom finds its compensatory power in observing more carefully the difference between thought and life; Moore's poems, having accepted Reason's doctrine, renounce their strange song to find their voice in a much more prudent--less desirable, and desiring--form of wisdom.

Notes

(1.) In 2001, the revised 1941 version reappeared in the Moore canon in Grace Schulman's The Poems of Marianne Moore, where Schulman uses it as her copy-text; in 2008, Heather White reprinted in facsimile the poem's original 1936 Poetry presentation (A-Quiver 119-24). Its erasure from Moore's own collections is, in a way, a badge of honor. Many fine poems were dropped from her 1951 Collected Poems, including "Roses Only," "Half Deity" "The Student," and "Pigeons," each in its way a major poem and a significant loss to Moore's canon.

(2.) Mary Warner Moore's comment is recorded in an 11 December 1932 letter from Marianne Moore to John Warner Moore (Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia [hereafter cited as Rosenbach]). We are grateful to Linda Leavell for locating this quotation from Moore for us. The letter says in part: "It also came to me after my journey to the Museum [of Natural History], that I should write something on the tiger-swallow-tail, the tiger-salamander and the tiger-horse, and I said so to Mouse and she said, 'Don't be bizarre.'" As we understand it, the bizarreness to which Mary Warner Moore is objecting is the yoking together of disparate animals based on their mutual, nominal tie to tigers. Moore cakes such potentially awkward yokings even further in "Walking-Sticks," where she hopes they might achieve the grace of the triskelion, with its "three legs ... meeting in the middle ... run[ing] in unison without assistance" (lines 29-33). Apart from Hadas's and Costello's brief mentions of the poem, the only other discussion we know of "Walking-Sticks" is Rohm Schulze's extensive and incisive analysis of the 1941 revisions (129-31). Our reading of the watermark in particular closely parallels hers.

(3.) In Cristanne Miller's concise summary, the poems of the 1940s "have frequently been read as a compendium of didactic, cliched, pious, overstated public pronouncements brought on by the immediate urgency of the war" (353; see 375n1 for a list of examples of such critical judgments).

(4.) Throughout this essay we will refer to passages from Emerson's essays and take him as a touchpoint for Moore's thinking about the artistic power of individualism. We do not know of any direct documentary evidence about which essays she read at what time, or what she thought about them. However, it is certain that Mary Warner Moore was an avid reader of Emerson, which alone suggests that Moore was as well. Linda Leavell describes a talk Moore wrote on individualism in 1907, in which "her mother recognized the influence of Emerson, [whom] Moore had read the previous year" (224). In "The Student," the second poem of her 1932 trilogy "Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play," Moore cites Emerson's hope for uniting thought and life in "The American Scholar": "One fitted/to be a scholar must have the heroic mind, Emerson said" (A-Quiver page 56). John Slatin argues for the pervasive influence of Emerson on Moore, asserting that "there is no need to ... be tentative" (264n22) in hearing echoes of Emerson in her work. We agree.

(5.) Quotations from the 1936 version of Walking-Sticks" are from A-Quiver (pages 119-24), and the parenthetical references in the text are line numbers. Quotations from the 1941 version are from What Are Years? and the parenthetical references in the text are page numbers.

(6.) Bryher to Marianne Moore, 9 January 1936, Rosenbach.

(7.) John Warner Moore to Marianne Moore, 23 January 1936, Rosenbach.

(8.) The Coutts letter with the watermark can be seen in the Moore papers (Rosenbach 11:02:05).

(9.) It may seem strange to connect those who "prey on others" to citizens assisted by the New Deal, but such an association was made, firmly and repeatedly, within the staunchly anti-Roosevelt Moore household. In her 7 November letter to Bryher, Moore recurs to the theme of her charity from Bryher and the uncomfortable (for Moore) company in which it places her:
  We feel, and many who did not vote as we did, feel that our recent
  election shows that the majority of the people are willing to profit
  at the expense of others,--are in favor of spoils, that is to say.
  We have such an appetite for Relief that we are like the frogs who
  would have a king. ... I am hardly the one to be satirizing relief,
  having received word in October from The Peoples Trust Company
  of an addition to my account. (369)


(10.) The circumstances surrounding Poems, and in particular the question of how much Moore knew and what she felt about its publication, are subjects of ongoing critical debate. We are persuaded by Robin Schulze's contention that Moore "was caught profoundly off guard" by the book's publication and "could not help but be annoyed by the fact that her friends had robbed her of the ability to control the textual debut she feared so greatly" (Moore, Becoming 23). For a full account of the book's publication and the differing critical interpretations of the Moore-H.D. correspondence concerning it, see Becoming 22-25.

(11.) We infer this characterization from a letter of Moore's that begins "I am de lighted about the gift to yourself though once again it is wrong. ... You ought to have a book exclusively your own" (Letters 327). This letter is the earliest we know of in a long series of exchanges about a project to be written by Moore and published by Bryher that eventually became The Pangolin and Other Verse.

(12.) One of her main sources was the first issue of a periodical called The Dolphin, subtitled "A Journal of the Making of Books," which was published by the Limited Editions Club in 1933. She has detailed notes on most of the articles, which include topics such as "On Designing a Typeface," "The Making of Printing Types," "Margins," and "Hand-made Paper and its Relation to Modern Printing."

(13.) If one's perspective on this idea is Thoreauvian rather than Emersonian, the perceptible presence of rags in paper is a virtue, bespeaking experience and authenticity. A passage from the "Reading" section of Walden, where Thoreau watches rags on their way to becoming paper, speaks to Moore's concerns:
  This carload of torn sails is more legible and interesting now than
  if they should be wrought into paper and printed into books. Who can
  write so graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as
  these rents have done? They are proof-sheets which need no
  correction. ... These rags in bales, of all hues and qualities, the
  lowest condition to which cotton and linen descend, the final result
  of dress,--of patterns which are now no longer cried up, unless it
  be in Milwaukee, as those splendid articles, English, French, or
  American prints, ginghams, muslins, &c., gathered from all quarters
  both of fashion and of poverty, going on to become paper of one color
  or a few shades only, on which forsooth will be written tales of real
  life, high and low, founded on fact! (119-20)


"Walking-Sticks" also suggests a parallel to Thoreau's sentiment that the "rents" in the sails are more eloquent of "real life" than the tales and novels written on "paper of one color."

Thoreau was of particular importance to Moore in the 1930s. That importance is most clearly apparent in the fact that she quotes him in the first paragraph of The Way We Lire Now, the novel (never published) on which she worked assiduously during that decade. There are two other intriguing points of contact between Walden and her poems of the period. A reader of the 1934 version of "Virginia Britannia" (A-Quiver page 111) will recognize the "childish and savage taste of men and women" Thoreau describes (Walden 60). A reader of any version of "The Steeple-Jack" (A-Quiver 50-53), the "novel" part of "Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play," will be interested in Thoreau's description of popular fiction's concern with
  how some poor unfortunate got up on a steeple, who had better never
  gone up as far as the belfry; and then, having needlessly got him up
  there, the happy novelist rings the bell for all the world to come
  together and hear, O dear! how he did get down again! (Walden 105)


(14.) The first sentence of The Way We Live Sow (Rosenbach) suggests the general significance of the fairy tale--with its essential conjunction of good, evil, and magic--for Moore in the 1930s:
  Once upon a time and now are the same, for there is always the
  temptation to inhabit a fairytale. Nor do we think of ourselves as
  Cinderella's cruel sisters, nor yet the wolf in Red Ridinghood,
  --despite Anthony Trollope's picture of us in The Way We Live Now.


(15.) As was often the case, Moore's brother Warner heard and responded to the importance of this moment in the poem and helped Moore think about it; in a conversation she recorded in her conversation notebook, he challenged her playfully and pointedly:
  [MM:] My worst problem was with the stanza about thieves. Finally I
  made up a word--self-subtractives. [JWM:] And what does it rhyme
  with? [MM:] Thieves. [JWM:] Even when shown it doesn't seem possible.
  You might just have used the word you wanted to use. [MM:] I did want
  to use it. (Rosenbach)


(16.) Moore is evoking an etymology for sincere in a phrase that describes pottery the flaws of which have not--because of the integrity of the artisan--been concealed with wax. The OED is curtly dismissive of this etymology: "There is no probability in the old explanation from 'sine cera,' without wax."

(17.) Moore's reading notes indicate that she read Democracy and Education and Essays in Experimental Logic when they were first published in 1916. Many of Dewey's ideas, including specific images and turns of phrase, continue to resonate in Moore's poems of the 1930s.

(18.) Though we cannot discuss it in detail here, we offer below the draft version (titled II in the folder) of the 1936 poem's sixth stanza, where "the hollowed self" appears as an example, if one were needed, of the poem's richness and difficulty of thought:
How clear
it is, when by Kind, cautiously,

violent fortitude's modest
pelican-and-young, rampant, as crest, with decision,
without haste, slowly is impressed,
forming a nest
on which the hollowed self upraised
shows round, in sealing wax. What perquisite so

portraitlike, or so possessed
of depth and curiosity. (Rosenbach)


(19.) The source of the quotation about poltroons is Giordano Bruno, who, with Emerson, is the poem's invisible hero of "self-dependence," embodying the radical subjective autonomy that subtracts itself from social and material relations. Woodbridge Riley writes about Bruno:
  Having already that touch of vanity in his character which the
  possession of a quick mind among sluggards or dullards almost
  inevitably entails, [Bruno] was thrown ... more and more back upon
  himself. At every step he met with a leaden, uncomprehending, but
  dogged opposition, until he seemed to himself the one seeing man in
  a world of the blind. ... Boundless was his confidence in himself,
  in his power of discerning truth, and in his ability to overcome all
  difficulties in the way of its discovery. "Difficulty," he writes in
  the Cena, "is ordained to check poltroons. Things ordinary and easy
  are for the vulgar, for ordinary people. But rare, heroic, divine men
  pass along this way of difficulty, that necessity may be constrained
  to yield them the palm of immortality. Although it may not be
  possible to come so far as to gain the prize, run your race
  nevertheless, do your hardest in what is of so great importance,
  strive to your last breath. It is not only he who arrives at the goal
  that is praised, but also whoever dies no coward's or poltroon's
  death; he casts the fault of his loss and of his death upon the back
  of fate, and shows the world that he has come to such an end by no
  defect of himself, but by error of fortune." (212)


(20.) An example of the seal is still perfectly intact on an envelope that enclosed a letter from Hildegarde Watson to Mary Warner Moore dated 26 October 1935 (Rosenbach).

(21.) Mary Warner Moore to Hildegarde Watson, 28 June 1936, Berg Collection, New York Public Library (hereafter cited as Berg).

(22.) Hildegarde Watson to Moore, 28 October 1936, Berg.

(23.) Hildegarde Watson to Moore, 10 July 1937, Rosenbach.

(24.) Marriage is a major trope in Moore's work of the 1930s; for instance, "Half-Deity" (A-Quiver 22-24) is based on the story of Cupid and Psyche. However, marriage is most often alluded to by way of bachelors--see, for example, the "Rosalindless/redbird" of "Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle" (A-Quiver 26) and the passionate but unmarried Handel of "The Frigate Pelican" (A-Quiver 84). Moore's poetry notebooks from this period keep lists of "Unusual Wedding Gifts," under which Moore comments "the self itself the most unusual of all" (Rosenbach).

(25.) This device assisted her in yoking extremes together in her conception of the power, in itself amoral, that makes courage and sacrifice possible. Note the triadic formulation in the draft stanza cited in note 18 above, which describes the pelican in its piety as an emblem of "violent fortitudes modest[y]." This represents a kind of power not evident in the "bold, outspoken gentleman."

(26.) The juniper tree is also associated with Christ in the wilderness by way of Elijah, who spends the first of his forty nights in the wilderness under a juniper tree (1 Kings 19.1-5), having despaired of being the Lord's prophet. (See also Milton, Paradise Regained 2.260-78.) The juniper and the pelican may also be connected in Moore's mind by the prefiguration in Psalm 102 of Christ in the desert: "I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert." The conclusion of Moore's poem also has echoes of T.S. Eliot: in 1930 Eliot published "Ash Wednesday," the second section of which begins, "Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree" (87). Moore's trembling sky, falling rain, and bird singing may also allude to the climactic scene in the fifth section of "The Waste Land" (68).

(27.) This letter shows the young Moore aware of, and well into the process of sublimating, the rudiments of this conflict. Later in the letter she refers to herself as "a passionate irritable person ... tend[ing] to breathe fire and scrape sparks from the ground, from the mere excess of animal spirits, from a little waywardness of vitality."

We are grateful to the estate of Marianne Moore and the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia for permission to quote from Moore's unpublished letters and from her unpublished novel The Way We Live Now.

Works cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. The Collected Prose. New York: Farrar, 1984.

Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. 1916. New York: Free Press, 1966.

Eliot, T. S. Collected Poems 1909-1962. New York: Harcourt, 1963.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Lectures. Library of America, 1983.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales. Trans, Margaret Hunt. London: George Bell, 1884.

Grossman, Allen. True-Love: Essays on Poetry and Valuing. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009.

Hadas, Pamela White. Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1977.

Keats, John. Letters of John Keats. Ed. Hyder Edward Rollins. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.

Leavell, Linda. "Marianne Moore, the James Family, and the Politics of Celibacy." Twentieth-Century Literature 49.2 (2003): 219-45.

Miller, Cristanne. "Distrusting: Marianne Moore on Feeling and War in the 1940s." American Literature 80.2 (June 2008): 353-79.

Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Indianapolis: Odyssey, 1957.

Moore, Marianne. A-Quiver with Significance: Marianne Moore 1932-1936. Ed. Heather Cass White. Victoria: ELS, 2008.

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Author:Carson, Luke; White, Heather Cass
Publication:Twentieth Century Literature
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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